I tried to give you a link to the Trib article but it's down, so here goes it....
If you have already read the article scroll down to see my response.
LIVER AND LET LIVE
Charlie Trotter now says force-feeding ducks to create foie gras is a cruel, bird-brained idea. Rick Tramonto says he is a hypocrite.
By Mark Caro
Tribune entertainment reporter
Published March 29, 2005
Famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter is no one's idea of an animal-rights activist. He has devised mouth-watering preparations featuring just about every creature deemed fit for human consumption, and his 2001 book "Charlie Trotter's Meat & Game" includes 15 recipes that use foie gras, the enlarged fatty liver of a duck or goose.
But Trotter had a change of heart about foie gras and has quit serving it at his eponymous North Side restaurant. The act has placed him at the center of a fiery fray that has animal-rights groups aligning with Republican lawmakers, foie gras bans being effected in California and, perhaps, Illinois and Chicago's top chefs engaging in an earth-scorching war of words.
At the debate's center is the welfare of the duck, which, like all animals that wind up in people's tummies, meets an untimely end. What's at issue is the period leading up to the slaughter: Foie gras, said to have its origins in Egypt 5,000 years ago, is created by force-feeding the birds with grain, thus causing their livers--and the rest of them--to grow dramatically.
Trotter said he became uncomfortable with serving the delicacy after visiting three foie gras farms (he refused to identify them) and concluding that the ducks were suffering as they were kept in small cages and fed grains through tubes inserted down their esophagi.
"I just said, `Enough is enough here. I can't really justify this,'" Trotter said. "What I have seen, it's just inappropriate. There are too many great things to eat out there that I don't believe that any animal would have to go through that for our benefit."
Trotter said he stopped including foie gras on his menus about three years ago but only is talking about the decision now. He appears to be alone among Chicago's top chefs in banning it on ethical grounds.
Rick Tramonto, chef of the four-star restaurant Tru, was dismissive of Trotter.
"It's a little hypocritical because animals are raised to be slaughtered and eaten every day," Tramonto said. "I think certain farms treat animals better than others. Either you eat animals or you don't eat animals."
"Rick Tramonto's not the smartest guy on the block," Trotter retorted. "Yeah, animals are raised to be slaughtered, but are they raised in a way where they need to suffer? He can't be that dumb, is he? It's like an idiot comment. `All animals are raised to be slaughtered.' Oh, OK. Maybe we ought to have Rick's liver for a little treat. It's certainly fat enough."
Upon being told Trotter's comments, Tramonto would say only, "Charlie's in my prayers."
Such a strong public stance by an influential chef like Trotter, nationally known for his PBS series "The Kitchen Sessions With Charlie Trotter," could cause further headaches for the relatively small foie gras industry, which has only a few North American producers, which almost exclusively use ducks.
The dish actually has been gaining in popularity of late. Jacques Bissonnette, export manager of the Palmex Inc., a farm in Quebec, said he currently sells three times more foie gras in Chicago than he did two years ago.
Although for years it was most frequently prepared in terrines or pates, foie gras now often stands--or kind of wobbles--as the star attraction, a small blob commonly seared and served with a sweet garnish. The texture is almost puddinglike, and the flavor is intense but not sharp. At restaurants it is usually offered as an appetizer; prices run in the $14-$20 range.
"You can't go to Whole Foods and buy a [fresh] lobe of foie gras," said former Trio chef Grant Achatz, currently preparing to open his new restaurant, Alinea. "It's just one of those items that really separates restaurants from the residential side."
Yet some restaurants and foie gras farms have been under siege. In the wake of an aggressive animal-rights campaign against the product--which included incidents of vandalism against Bay Area restaurants --California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill last September banning the force-feeding of ducks and geese as well as the sale of foie gras when made from force-fed birds. The bill takes effect in 2012.
A similar bill has been proposed in New York, and last month in Illinois, state Sen. Kay Wojcik (R-Schaumburg) introduced the Force Fed Birds Act. Still in the reading stage, this bill initially prohibited the force-feeding of birds and the sale of any resultant product, though, to appease restaurateurs, it has been amended to allow foie gras' sale.
So what would be banned is its production, which doesn't happen in Illinois anyway.
"Because of the California law, we heard rumors that the people who do this are now looking for other states to manufacture the foie gras in, and we're saying, `You're not coming to Illinois,'" Wojcik said.
She added that she hasn't actually visited any farms to observe the ducks' treatment, but she has seen pictures.
"I do fine dining and I do pates, but we do the pate where the duck is killed naturally or the goose or whatever," she said. "It's not being brutalized. I just have compassion for animals."
Farm Sanctuary makes move
Wojcik initially was approached by representatives of Farm Sanctuary, which promoted the bill. Farm Sanctuary has been leading the national anti-foie-gras campaign.
Its Web site, nofoiegras.org, calls for the boycotting of restaurants that offer the product, and the group has singled out Los Angeles-based celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck for serving foie gras and veal, launching the site wolfgangpuckcruelty.org.
Farm Sanctuary head Gene Bauston said he thought Trotter's decision was "wonderful."
"For him to say he's not going to serve foie gras because of the cruelty involved is a significant statement, and it will affect other chefs and other culinary leaders in this country," Bauston said.
Farm Sanctuary members previously contacted Trotter urging him to sign a pledge that he would never serve foie gras.
"He refused," Bauston said.
"These people are idiots," Trotter said. "Understand my position: I have nothing to do with a group like that. I think they're pathetic. . . . I have nothing in common with that left-leaning kind of ideology."
Trotter isn't getting behind the Illinois bill either.
"I would never go so far as to say we should stop these people from doing it," he said.
Nevertheless, Guillermo Gonzalez, owner of Sonoma Foie Gras in California, argued that Trotter and those who follow him are just furthering the animal-rights cause.
"They may not realize that they are being instrumental in the ultimate agenda of the movement, which is to terminate the consumption of animals for food altogether," Gonzalez said.
"We who are in foie gras production are just a stepping stone of the global strategy of these groups, and I recognize that we are a soft target."
Bauston agreed that foie gras is an especially fat bull's-eye.
"The foie gras industry is not as powerful as these other agribusiness industries," he said.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras co-owner Michael Ginor, whose New York company produces about 4,000 foie gras ducks a week, accused Trotter of taking a stance based on calculation.
"Charlie first and foremost is a marketer, a really smart marketer," Ginor said. "If he feels that the wind is blowing in a certain direction, he will try to be the first to jump on that bandwagon."
Trotter said jumping on the bandwagon is exactly what he didn't do.
"If I were so eager to promote this like this, why wouldn't I have spoken up and made a big campaign out of it three years ago when I started not serving the product?" Trotter said. "But lately I have been getting more and more questions and more and more inquiries. After a while the cat's out of the bag."
The basic disagreement remains how much those ducks suffer--and whether that suffering is any worse than what, say, chickens experience en route to the grocery store.
Trotter said foie gras ducks spend two weeks running around as chicks before being "bloated up as quickly as possible."
"You're talking about chipped beaks and broken beaks," he said. "You're talking about broken webbed feet and birds that are panting because they're so overweight and kept in a 1-foot-by-2-foot wire penned boxes."
Executives at Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Sonoma Foie Gras and Palmex called Trotter's descriptions highly inaccurate. All three said their ducks run relatively free for 12 weeks before being moved to individual cages (Palmex) or group pens (Hudson Valley and Sonoma) for two to four weeks of feeding before slaughter.
"Your normal chicken is processed at about eight or nine weeks of age," Ginor said. "Ducks that you'll find in a Chinese restaurant are 10 or 11 weeks old. Foie ducks are 16 weeks old."
During the fattening period, a tube is inserted down the duck's hard esophagus, and a corn meal is released for a couple of seconds, two or three times a day. Foie gras producers note that ducks lack gag reflexes and that waterfowl are designed to digest large portions of food, such as whole fish.
Vogue magazine food writer Jeffrey Steingarten noted that humane societies have been "aiming for those foie gras farms for years" without collecting solid evidence of brutal or disease-ridden conditions.
"I think the way factory-raised pigs are raised is far, far worse," said Steingarten, the author of "The Man Who Ate Everything."
"The question is, Do we take care of foie gras even if we believe it's only borderline inhumane as compared to the treatment of pigs?"
Count Le Francais chef Roland Liccioni on the pro-foie gras side.
Matter of perspective
"People in this country, they don't know about the farm," he said. "I grew up in the southwest of France, and foie gras for me, there's nothing wrong with that. The bird does not suffer at all. The customer will be the ones to suffer" if foie gras is banned.
Tramonto said he draws the line when a food source appears to be dwindling, such as Chilean sea bass, swordfish and beluga caviar, but otherwise he tries to deal with responsible farms. Still . . .
"Look how much veal this country goes through with all the Italian restaurants and the scallopinis," Tramonto said. "Yes, there are certain farms that are going to treat those veal better than others, but still at the end of the day it's killing those babies, right?"
To Sarah Stegner, the former Ritz-Carlton Dining Room chef currently running the Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, that slippery slope is a reason to appreciate Trotter's stance.
"It's a bigger issue than the foie gras," she said, referring to the way food animals are raised. "It's an issue the whole country needs to address and not just a little niche. People need to do what they can. Charlie Trotter is in a position where he's a leader in the food community, and he wants to be responsible, and those are things he sees as priorities, and good for him."
Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel contributed to this report.